Vienna - there’s heritage and so much more to discover in the Austrian capital

A panoramic view of the city with the coloured Stephansdom cathedral roof in the foreground
A panoramic view of the city with the coloured Stephansdom cathedral roof in the foreground
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Scotland on Sunday travel

Strolling through the majesty of Vienna it’s hard to think of another city in the world which can touch it for old world grandeur and spectacle. But while this may be the city of Beethoven, Mozart and Freud, don’t think it’s all about the history. There’s swimming in the Danube and cycling around the famous Prater park, plus a thriving design culture and bustling bar and restaurant scene to explore, which have long put the Austrian capital on any city break tick list.

Cruising along the Danube in front of the parliament building

Cruising along the Danube in front of the parliament building

I try to find my bearings soon after arriving with a saunter through the historic centre. The scale and splendour of the place take your breath away and you quickly get a sense of the city’s role as the centre of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.

The focal point is the towering gothic cathedral Stephansdom which dominates the centre, while the home of the Vienna State Opera, the Staatsoper, is something to behold. It’s worth just losing yourself in the cobbled maze of streets in the old town to soak up the ambience.

I stay at the Ruby Lissi hotel in the historic centre and the location is ideal. It’s a two-minute walk from Schwedenplatz square, on the Danube Canal with its myriad bars and fast food kiosks. Ruby has made a name for itself in the budget hotel market in recent years with its “lean luxury” approach proving a hit in Austria and Germany. Guests checks themselves in, with reception desks among the needless costs dispensed with (although staff are on hand to assist). It has two other hotels in the city, including the Marie just off the Mariahilferstrasse, one of the main streets, which also offers easy access to the centre and underground.

At the Ruby Lissi the bright white rooms have a stylish, “cut above” feel. Nonessentials like a mini-bar and room service are cut out, but everything you need is provided for. There’s even a Marshall Amp you can use for your electronic gadgets and guitars provided in the hotel bar area. The extensive buffet breakfast has more than enough to meet all needs, with the choice of hard and soft boiled eggs in a basket a real treat. Vienna’s coffee houses are proper city institutions with more than 2,500 across the city. Hangouts for historic luminaries such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, “Wieners” take them very seriously as places to eat, drink and be seen. We try Café Sperl, which found fame in recent years as a popular filming location, hosting Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the movie Before Sunrise.

Vienna's iconic Riesenrad ferris wheel

Vienna's iconic Riesenrad ferris wheel

The city also has a thriving design scene and it’s worth having a wander around the trendy seventh district to check out some of the avant-garde stores located around Neubaugasse, such as bag specialist Ina Kent and the Park concept clothing store.

If you fancy taking some time out from the urban bustle, head for the beach. The old Danube is an idyllic loch-type waterway which remained when the famous river was rerouted to tackle flooding. A few subway stops from the town centre, it feels a world away. In the baking heat we take a boat out and enjoy swimming and relaxing on the Danube Island in the middle of the lake with its beaches, open air pools, bars and cafés.

But the best of Vienna is simply wandering around the Old Town and taking in the sights of the this stunning city. The Hofburg Palace complex is both dramatic and intricate, encompassing the fortified castle built in the 13th century. As well as housing the Austrian President, there’s also the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) with its staggering array of treasures from the days of empire, while tourists love the Spanish Riding School, an “equine ballet” performed by horses formerly kept as an imperial stud.

Don’t forget to try the city’s signature dish, the Wiener Schnitzel, a hefty veal cutlet breaded and pan fried with hearty servings of vegetables. Glacis Beisl, tucked away in the nearby Museums Quarter, is renowned as one of the city’s best bistros and its shaded outdoor courtyard setting provides respite from the mid-afternoon sun. It also does a very nice black pudding and goulash.

The Hofburg Palace, the former principal imperial palace of the Habsburgs, now inhabited by the country's president

The Hofburg Palace, the former principal imperial palace of the Habsburgs, now inhabited by the country's president

The stunning range of museums in this district means there’s something for everyone, but good luck trying to get round in one day. I spend a few hours wandering through the Leopold Museum with its history of the influential Secessionist movement in Vienna’s art scene at the turn of the last century. The crowning jewel though is the Kunsthistorisches (art history) which has been described as the “magnum opus” of the former Habsburg dynasty and is worth visiting for the splendour and opulence of the building as much as its collection of Old Masters.

For dinner the waterside Motto am Fluss could not be more dramatic overlooking the Danube Canal, a setting that doubles as the mooring for the Twin City Liner ferry service between Vienna and Bratislava just over an hour away. The Venetian-style interior of the restaurant adds to the ambience, with regional and organic dishes served up.

No trip to Vienna would be complete without a bit of music and getting along to see a performance at the top venues couldn’t be easier – if you don’t mind standing. I roll up at the Staatsoper an hour before the evening’s Italian opera L’Elisir D’Amore by Donizetti gets under way and buy tickets for just four euros, a bargain to experience a live performance in such a breathtaking venue.

Cycling is a great way to get around the city, one of the most bike-friendly capitals in Europe. We head out to Prater park, the city’s major green space and head to the fairground area. Here you can check out the landmark Riesenrad ferris wheel, famed for its starring role 
in the Orson Welles movie The Third Man which immortalised the shadowy spy world of post-war Vienna. It’s another slice of the city’s rich history, which fuses with its place as a contemporary culture and design hub to make it a such a memorable getaway experience.

The Danube at night

The Danube at night

FACTFILE

Nightly rates at Ruby Lissi, Vienna start from €89 per night for a Nest Room, including breakfast or €69 in the Ruby Marie. For more information, including the Ruby Sofie in Vienna, visit www.rubyhotels.com.

Vienna is easily accessible from Edinburgh with budget carriers offering three flights a week, while Austrian low-cost newcomer LEVEL offer daily flights from London Gatwick to Vienna from €29.99 each way. For more information or to book, visit www.flylevel.com.

www.vienna.info